The impact of sand mining on the environment and social cohesion in western Gambia


By Abdoukarim Sanneh,
London, United Kingdom

The Atlantic Coast Line of the Gambia along with the River Gambia and its tributaries, the Mangrove habitats and the Lowland fertile rice growing agro-ecological zones, function as vital ecosystem services for provisioning, regulating and cultural for people and communities in Western Gambia. With growing construction and demand of house building, we relies heavenly on sand and pebbles in building our houses and roads. The intensive urban development is contributing enormously to increasing demand on sand for building and construction.

Sand is valuable resource for construction and other purposes, however sand mining results in serious environmental problems such as land degradation, loss of agricultural/ horticultural lands and biodiversity, as well as increased poverty among people. Sand mining is a practice of extraction of sand from various environment such as beach, inland dunes, riverbed etc. Years ago, coast shoreline of Bijilo and Brufut and its unique sand dunes was the source of sand for our construction industry in the country. The process of years of sand extraction or sand mining has accelerated coastal environmental degradation in these areas at alarming rate until 1999, when government came with the decision to shift the sand mining to Sanyang and Kartong in Kombo South District.


Having been away from the Gambia for more than two decades, what I observed during my recent visit was that infrastructural development such as Kombo Coastal Road Project has led to rapid population growth and physical expansion in Greater Banjul, Northern, Southern, Central and Eastern Kombo due to the influx of people from different parts of the country. These in turn have exerted pressure on the needs for housing provision, in addition to other existing demand such as civil works, repairs etc. The increasing rate of urbanisation in the Gambia has brought with it several challenges ranging from physical, economic, social to environmental issues. To cater for our rapid urbanisation that comes with road and housing construction, the sand dunes in Bijilo and Brufut which are part of the beach system where destroyed and because of the impact of coastal erosion and destruction of beach infrastructures by strong waves or floods that become a problem, sand Milling was moved from Bijilo/Brufut to Kartong and Sanyang.

The inland sand deposit in both Sanyang and Kartong are lateritic in nature and when such comes under immense pressure due to human activities as extraction of sand is disastrous. Rapid urbanisation is a major cause for sand demand and is responsible for unsustainable extraction of inland sand mining. From Kartung demonstration that led to arrested of 45 people and Faraba demonstration that led to death of three people, it is about time Gambia Government under what called political ecology Access Theory in community resource management and natural resource governance. Community rights to benefit sharing and the relation and processes that enable various actors to derive benefits from resources. In both Karung and Faraba the interaction between mining operators, citizens-neighbours and government authorities and law enforcement agencies is confrontational. These conflicts have centred on environmental and social issues such as noise, truck traffic, dust, stream-water quality, reclamation, biodegradation, pollution and visually unpleasant landscapes.

Inland sand mining has an impact on biodiversity and habitat, deforestation of the land with the consequent elimination of the vegetation, pollution of the land, hydrology, air and even noise. Because of these impacts, local communities are the one that tend to bear the negative impacts of sand mining be it social, economic or environmental. It is therefore important for the government to make efforts to stem these problems through informed decision-making.

The application of geographical information system could play an important part in informed decision making about inland sand mining in the country. The availability of spatial information or spatial data prior to an area allocated for sand mining, during and after sand mining is essential to address activities of inland sand mining and their impact on the environment. Geographic information systems are important tools in environment and development decision making concerning natural resource extraction and utilisation. With site assessment and requirement for sand mining geographical information, system can play significant efforts in analysis or screening of potential sites, identifying and mapping the locations within all the regions in the country, monitor and control sand mining activities so that environmental degradation can be slowed down.

It is about time government of thee Gambia comes with some form of informed inland sand mining decision-making and do way with unscientific sand mining operations that is causing severe land degradation and ecological imbalance. Sand mining in many places in Kombo can result in conflict pressure on land resources. Sand mining in most of the places from Bijilo Brufut, Sanyang, Batukokunku and Kartong have resulted in high level of environmental degradation. In all these places, mining did not benefit the communities but individual the damage stays with the communities when the mining operation close. Extraction of natural resource in communities should be the property rights of communities. In many parts of the world, natural resource management and utilisation is centred access theory, which give emphasis community rights to property management and benefit sharing.

In our new democratic dispensation, there is a need to create awareness in this regard. Communities need awareness on how best to manage their land resources order to protect the land assets from depreciation and degradation. Environmental indicators need to put be put in place so that the set standards and regulations are enforced through monitoring and inspection. Finally, The Government of the Gambia should establish synergy between various departments and institutions dealing with natural resource to enhance coordination, monitoring and regulation.